The fetishization of craft coffee has reached Budapest too. Plenty of new-wave, specialty cafés have opened where tattooed-and-bearded baristas throw around buzzwords like "single origin" and "small batch" as they prepare pricey cups of pour-overs and cold brews. Looking at it differently, there are now a bunch of places where you can drink excellent coffee in Budapest.
Espresso Embassy embodies the fantasy of the new-wave coffee world. This lively café inside Budapest's financial district makes hand pourovers with a Hario V60, espresso-based drinks with a fancy Victoria Arduino machine, and a bunch of delicious cakes of organic ingredients you've never heard of. The beautifully repurposed neoclassical building (see the landmark plaque on the facade) has a vaulted exposed brick ceiling and a meticulously minimalist interior. The core clientele consists of yuppie bankers as well as trendy grad students from the nearby Central European University who can be observed tirelessly typing away on their Macs.
Like many other cities, Budapest is swarming with specialty coffee shops. You know - tattooed baristas, minimalist interiors, and pricey pourovers. Does the city need more new-wave cafés? The answer is not obvious to me, but if it’s a “yes” to you, then more of them should be like Dorado Café. This 2018 newcomer is located on the rapidly gentrifying Klauzál Street inside the old Jewish Quarter.
Some pockets of Buda are similarly lively as Pest, but they are few and far between. The area around Bartók Béla Way is one such revitalized neighborhood, featuring a concentration of art galleries, cafés, and bars. Kelet Café, an all-purpose café, is one of the reasons that new life is breathing into the street. The Middle Eastern-infused food selections alone may not be worth the trip from the other side of the Danube, but Kelet’s claim to fame is their coffee, which comes from Colombia, Kenya, and Ethiopia, and is served in espresso-based, filter, and Turkish coffee forms.
Madal is a rightfully popular specialty coffee chain in Budapest. In general, they make excellent coffee (espresso-based, filter, and cold brews), have a friendly staff and sleek wood-paneled interiors. The company operates two other locations in Budapest, and while the one near the Parliament building is much bigger with shorter wait times, this one at Ferenciek tere has the most charm. If you get there early enough, a selection of flaky (whole wheat) croissants can accompany your morning coffee.
Printa was one of the first design stores in Budapest that figured out that selling high-quality coffee alongside Hungarian designer products can be a winning combination. Think limited edition prints, clothes, bags, and purses made by the local designers - no tchotchkes here. Being good at what they do, and being located in the center of it all, it's inevitable that they now mainly cater to tourists with somewhat inflated price tags. Nevertheless, there's plenty of cool stuff, and great espresso-based coffee, which is sourced from Blue Bird coffee roastery next door.
The location itself is worth the visit to Kontakt, this specialty coffee shop nestled inside the charming cobble-stoned courtyard of a downtown building. With a radically minimalist interior, a heavily bearded staff, and customers glued to their smartphones, Kontakt could easily be mistaken for a hip Brooklyn café. Kontakt's policy is not to add any sugar to the coffees, nor any milk to the drip coffees, so that the rich coffee flavors can be fully appreciated. If you're looking to eat something, walk a few steps across the ally to Szimply, a popular all-day-breakfast joint run by the same owners in a similarly fashionable vein.
Flaky almond croissants, fresh orange juice, and specialty coffee (both pour overs and espresso-based) are just three of the reasons to visit this cute café in the “Harlem of Budapest”, a bit outside the city center in District 8. Kudos to the owner for walking the less trodden path and having created something great in this slice of the city. Wander the streets nearby to get a glimpse of the lives of less privileged Budapest residents (the neighborhood is very safe during the day). Local attractions include an enormous late-Baroque church, a former telephone exchange in a beautiful art nouveau building, the country's best high school, as well as a playfully eclectic residential building with a non-matching top floor added during communism..
At the turn of the 20th century, Budapest’s Grand Boulevard was teeming with coffeehouses. Penniless artists and people of all backgrounds hung out there day and night, discussing politics, romance, and missed rent payments while nursing their precious cups of coffee. Cafés were the center of social life. Today, however, second hand clothing stores and uninviting gyro vendors paint a sad picture of this once truly grand boulevard.
Mesterbike is a charming bike repair shop sharing a space with a specialty café. Unlike most new-wave coffee shops in Budapest that’re set along the downtown tourist paths, Mesterbike is located away from the city center on a residential street in Budapest’s up-and-coming District 9. Accordingly, most customers consist of neighborhood regulars popping in for a coffee, often with bikes in hand. In addition to bikes, and light-roast cups of espresso-based and filter coffee (V60) options, Mesterbike also sells a range of Hungarian designer products that’re tangentially related to bicycles, like the impossibly cool Blind Chic multifunctional cotton canvas backpacks.
It’s not easy to find specialty coffee places on the Buda side, so when Barako, a closet-sized café, opened in 2014, it filled a void in Buda’s barely-existent craft coffee scene. The Filipino owner, Ryan Andres, intentionally eschewed the tourist-centric commercial areas of downtown Pest and set up shop here instead. He imports the Barako coffee beans (a variation of the Liberica species) from land he cultivates in the Philippines. One of Barako’s specialties is siphon coffee, which involves an elaborate preparation process reminiscent of a high school chemistry class experiment.
Mantra is a specialty café located on a magically pretty and quiet downtown backstreet in Budapest lined with trees and wrought-iron street lamps (ironically, it’s located just a block away from the touristy Váci Street). From the ever-changing light-roasted coffee beans they might use Ethiopian, Brazilian, and Honduran selections on any given day for the filter and espresso-based coffees. AeroPress, Chemex, V60, and Gina are just some of the instruments available for filter coffees. If you prefer tea, go for the chai or matcha latte.
Never mind the uncanny resemblance to Blue Bottle Coffee (a pioneering California-based specialty coffee company), Blue Bird is one of Hungary’s top coffee roasters. They sell 11 types of premium Arabica sourced from nine countries, in both ready-to-drink and packaged form, out of an impossibly cool storefront in the heart of the Jewish Quarter. The tiny, multipurpose space serves as their roasting, storage, and coffee making facility, all in one. Blue Bird’s filter coffee (includes everything from V60 to Chemex, Aeropress, Frenchpress, Siphon, and cold brew options) is on par with the best specialty coffees in New York or San Francisco.
Opened in 2012, My Little Melbourne was one of the first cafés to bring specialty coffee to Budapest, which resulted in a cult following that still continues to surround them. Leveraging the rightful success, they opened a brew bar next door focusing on cold brews and filter coffee (using V60, AeroPress, and French press brewing devices), while the original premise continues to serve espresso based drinks like cappuccino and latte. My Little Melbourne is located in the heart of Budapest's trendy and increasingly touristy old Jewish Quarter, so the somewhat inflated prices aren't surprising - for most foreigners they will still feel like a bargain..
Escape the noisy downtown street and enter through the yellow ceramic tiles into the 19th century courtyard of Fekete Café. The marble well located in the center of the tranquil courtyard is one of those turn of the 20th century Budapest surprises that hide behind many sooty facades. Weather permitting, enjoy your morning coffee in the open air courtyard..
Újlipótváros, Budapest’s version of the West Village, is undoubtedly the hopping scene for stylish locals. Accordingly, plenty of new-wave coffee shops line Pozsonyi Road, the main artery of this neighborhood. While you can’t go wrong with any of them, My Green Cup stands out from the rest with a spacious interior as well as an outdoor terrace for the warmer months. Their espresso-based coffees are prepared with a sleek Synesso machine (hand made in the United States), while they use a Kalita dripper for the hand pour-over filter coffee.
What's this bustling café full of foreign students doing in the sleepy, mostly working class part of the outer District 7? This question will occupy your mind as soon as you step into The Goat Herder. The answer literally lies across the street in the form of the 19th century stately buildings of The University of Veterinary Medicine, where most of the students come from Western Europe. The owner of The Goat Herder not only presciently recognized this gaping market opportunity, but also ensured that the foreign students would be served premium espresso-based coffee. Besides coffee and free wifi, they serve pastries, snacks, salads, and fresh fruit juices all day (but, unfortunately, no egg-based or other cooked breakfast food).
Rankings are based on a combination of food/drink, atmosphere, service, and price. The author visits all restaurants incognito.